Saffron

Saffron is a medicinal spice that contains several carotenoid compounds which have potent anti-depressant, anti-oxidant, and anti-cancer properties.

It has been cultivated for over 3500 years and has been used for different purposes, including making fragrances, medical usage and mainly food flavoring.

Saffron (Crocus sativus) belongs to the iris family and the three wispy red saffron “threads” can be gleaned from each delicate crocus, which, ironically, is lavender-purple in color.

One of saffron’s uses may have been for dyeing textiles, since a single grain can color 10 gallons of water with a distinctive yellow hue. More than a grain is used, however, to color the bright orange robes worn by Buddhist priests in India.

Saffron is also a good source of minerals and vitamins that help to control blood pressure, regulate heart rate, repair stress related damage, support healthy red blood cell production, build the immune system, and prevent infections.

Saffron has also been known to alleviate depression and mental stagnancy and bring back joy to the senses. Saffron has the ability to soothe the digestive tract and be an overall natural digestive aid.

Saffron Extract (in supplement form) has also been used as an appetite suppressant and weight loss aid. Saffron is known to provide significant cognitive benefits by helping to promote mental focus, memory retention, and recall capacity.

It is also beneficial for eyesight and can specifically aid in the prevention and repair of cataracts. Only a pinch is needed for effective results.

An ounce of Saffron contains manganese at nearly 400% of the daily recommended value, vitamin C – 38%; magnesium – 18%; and iron – 17%. Potassium and vitamin B6 both impart 14% of the daily recommended value. Yet no one eats one ounce at meals, so it is conceivable that people are receiving less than these numbers.

Manganese helps regulate blood sugar, metabolize carbohydrates, and absorb calcium. It also helps form tissues, bones, and sex hormones. Vitamin C is an infection fighter; iron purifies your blood; and the vitamin B6 content helps form red blood cells and assures nerves will function as they should. Potassium helps balance fluids in cells, which, if low, can cause painful muscle cramps.

Beyond that, saffron contains more than 150 volatile compounds, among others. Picrocrocin, for instance, is the main substance responsible for the strong taste. Safranal brings saffron its characteristic odor and fragrance. Crocin, which delivers the intense orange color, is an indication of this spice’s medicinal qualities, i.e. its powerful carotenoids and antioxidants that can protect your body from free radical damage.

Saffron is known for what it does to energize dishes with a pungent, earthy essence.  It’s an ingredient used in Sweden, England, the U.S., and France, not to mention the countries where, collectively, around 50 tons are grown every year: Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, France, Greece, India, Israel, Iran, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Spain, and Turkey. Saffron can remain fresh in an airtight container for several years.

 

It is the most expensive herb on earth. The cultivation and harvest is still performed by hand.

Elderly village women are usually set on this task of removing the saffron “threads.” It takes 4,500 crocus flowers to make up one ounce of saffron spice.

 

Buying saffron at your local supermarket might not yield the freshest product. A better option might be obtaining it from an ethnic specialty grocery store.

But make sure it’s actually saffron you purchase, because another affectation is “meadow saffron” (Colchicum autumnale), which, although used as a medicine, can be quite toxic, so it should be strictly avoided.

Consider adding a little saffron to your cooking to add not only a beautiful color and a wonderful flavor and aroma, but multiple health benefits as well.

Growing

Even if saffron is an expensive spice known as red gold, growing it is however very simple and accessible to anyone. Its price depends on the intense labor needed to harvest it, not because it is difficult to grow.

 

Saffron can grow nearly anywhere in the world. The kind of soil is far more important than the climate of the region where one wants to grow it.

Saffron corms like a well-drained soil. Heavy clay soil must be avoided.The ideal type of ground is a neutral clay-calcareous or silty soil (PH 6 to 8).

For small areas like a vegetable garden or simple borders, one can easily improve the soil by adding sand, peat or compost.

The saffron bed must be in a sunny place, notably in autumn during the flowering stage.

Saffron corms can either be planted directly into the ground (borders, gardens, fields etc.) or in pots or window boxes. Put the corms into the ground at a 10 to 15 cm depth leaving a 10 cm gap between them.

Watering is not necessary. In case of severe drought in September, watering them once will usually be enough. Corms multiply from one year to the next, from one corm one can get 5 corms after 3 years.

Filaments have to be dried out to be preserved for use.  Drying can be done by putting the pistils on a sieve in a well ventilated place between 40 to 60 degrees Celsius, for 15 minutes (well ventilated food dryer, in an oven with the door slightly open, under the sun outside).

When dried, filaments are very light and breakable.

Fresh saffron, even dried is tasteless. It is recommended that it is placed in an airtight tin away from the light for at least a month before consumption. Saffron keeps its taste for two years.

Additional resources on Saffron:

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/saffron.html

http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-saffron.html

http://www.azer.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/ai142_folder/142_articles/142_saffron.html

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